Park Partnership Engagement
City Parks Alliance (CPA) began working with the City of Brownsville Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) and a small cross-sector planning team in April 2019. CPA staff conducted interviews with a diverse range of stakeholders – health-related organizations, nonprofits, community groups, and others – to better understand the challenges in the community and explore how parks and strong park partnerships could be part of the solution. After synthesizing the key ideas that came out of the interviews and meeting with PARD and the core planning team to discuss these ideas, CPA worked with the local team over the next three months to design a workshop that would address the most pressing challenges and foster dialogue between participants around concrete solutions.
Though progress has been made in recent years, Brownsville is challenged by some of the highest obesity and diabetes rates in the country, including among children. In addition, connectivity issues and safety concerns make it difficult for residents, especially children and seniors, to access parks in the city. Lastly, with miles of new trails slated for development under the Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Plan and interest in expanding native habitat and green infrastructure as part of that work, an opportunity was identified to offer workforce training opportunities, especially for low-income and under-employed people.
On October 16, 2019, about 35 participants came together to attend the full-day workshop, titled, “Parks, Health, and Community Engagement in Brownsville.” City Parks Alliance began by leading the group through an interactive case study exercise, focusing on Landforce, a workforce development nonprofit in Pittsburgh. Following the case study discussion, guest speakers included Akiima Price, Community Liaison for the National Park Foundation in Washington, DC, and Sarah Messiah, Director of the Center for Pediatric Population Health at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas. Akiima spoke about her innovative work connecting underserved youth, adults, and families to meaningful and positive experiences in parks, and Sarah spoke about her work in Miami-Dade instituting the Fit2Play model, an evidence-based, after-school play and nutrition education program that had measurable impacts on childhood health and obesity. The afternoon was dedicated to a facilitated group discussion about the relevance to Brownsville of the ideas presented and for the next steps in implementing those strategies locally. An action planning session was held the following day with members of the core planning team.
Parks and Recreation is working with the UT School of Public Health and the Housing Authority of the City of Brownsville to replicate the Fit2Play afterschool program to address childhood obesity. The program involves training staff to collect health data on participants so they can measure the program’s impact on childhood health over time and use that data to refine and expand the program. The action plan included piloting the program in the housing authority’s summer campsites, with a goal of expanding to schools in the fall. The housing authority established another partnership with Healthy Communities of Brownsville to create a walking program for seniors to increase their physical activity, social connectedness, and knowledge of wellness issues.
Support for this Park Partnership Workshop provided by The JPB Foundation.